By : RACHNA TYAGI
Mahindra launched their powerful pick-up trucks, the Bolero MaXX HD recently, along with MaXX City variants with extremely competitive pricing. With different variants and load bed options, Mahindra continues to bring class-leading products to the CV market. We caught up with Ajay Saran Sharma, Vice President, Design & Head, M.I.D.S., who shared valuable insights on all that goes into designing a CV product such as the Bolero MaXX HD.
TOS: What’s new on the Bolero MaXX HD?
AS: The entire exterior and interior has been redesigned. If you look at our legacy products there is a huge fan following and there is a lot of attachment to the way it looks, so we couldn’t depart completely. It was a very conscious decision that we took. What we’ve done is wanting the product to look stronger, more modern, we’ve cleaned up many of the surfaces, we’ve made many of the details very hi-tech, but the basic security that you get, and the robustness of the form, is something that we’ve still retained. Going forward, again, we had many discussions with our core customers and the constant feedback was that they didn’t really see a problem in the design of yore, but of course, it had to be modernized, so it was a very difficult [and] tricky exercise actually, to make the product look like it is from today and will be future ready for X years hence, yet not depart completely from what’s in the past. Again, it has a very strong connection which we didn’t want to lose so this will retain what we’ve had in the past in terms of our customer base but moving forward, it will bring in more people because it has been modernized like it is done.
That applies to the interiors as well, like Vijay (Nakra) said, the utilitarian aspects of the product are most important. And that’s not something we wanted to mess with at all. In fact, you’ve seen the new interiors compared to the old ones, we’ve very consciously incorporated many functionalities which would make it very easy to use the product even compared to the earlier one, which in any case was quite legendary in terms of being a little ahead. So, that again was a conscious call. We keep it simple, we don’t keep it high maintenance, whether it is in terms of repairability, in terms of cleanliness, in the kinds of forms we use, the kind of surface language we use… it moves in that direction. So, it was a very balanced approach – move the design on, yet we don’t antagonize the people who have grown up with this.
TOS: The loadbed…how do you make that more versatile for different people?
AS: It is a long study. The experience of over 25 years, seeing people’s loading patterns that exist, it can start, for example, with the size of a crate… how many of those crates are typically loaded in a normal loading cycle… if you put four abreast, what is the width? That balanced with the fact that many of the products, especially the city range, will operate in narrow lanes, etc… you can’t go overboard. So, it is always tracking that balance but based on a number of facts, the actual size of containers, typical size of boxes, moving to the HD range, we might actually look at, for example, aircrafts have Euro pallets which are redefined and you can easily say that this loadbed can take two Euro pallets or three Euro pallets. Not that this is protected for Euro pallets but that is the sort of dimensioning that we do. There are already standards in the market and we work around those. India being India, nobody stays with standards beyond a point. We offer that flexibility. For example, [with] the same overall length, tuning the size of the cab so that you don’t lose much of the spaciousness inside yet you get a little more loading space at the back.
TOS: How did you zero in on this colour because traditionally it has always been white…
AS: White is super popular because it is easy to maintain. It doesn’t show scratches, doesn’t show dust, resale is excellent. Even in passenger cars, white, silver, neutrals, as we call them, the resale value for those products is huge, absolutely! Very easy to maintain, even if you want to get a touch up done, it is available everywhere, as opposed to the metallics.
TOS: And the white is a solid?
AS: The white is a solid and it is a very high durability solid. Very specifically designed and formulated for this sort of vehicle that can take knocks and bangs and won’t show too much wear and tear.
The product itself, you will see, has been modernized, some aspirational visuals have come into it, so to run with that, we have introduced these additional colours such as the very premium gold that you see here. Again, for this kind of a product, we didn’t want to push the envelope too much because this gold also, although we’re calling it gold is almost neutral. So, it will hold its own, in terms of being easy to maintain, also easy to resell because it is not a colour that antagonizes. It is friendly, warm, [and] yet premium. So, on a more premium variant, this would work very well.
TOS: There are several pick-ups in the Indian market now, where does the MaXX stand?
AS: [Toyota] Hilux is out and out lifestyle. In India especially, it is like a very hard-core SUV, not very practical because in an SUV, you get a lot of interior space, [Isuzu] D-MAX or Hilux, you get these two rows. So, it would not be fair to compare this to that at all. D-MAX does have the lower end offering but it still is semi-lifestyle because they don’t necessarily have this kind of loading arrangement, we’ve optimized the cabin size by actually designing the engine bay for example, around the size of the power pack. If you see the engine bay, it is huge, which effectively means, it eats into your loadbed; everything sits that much further back. In our case, we’ve given a lot of importance to the business aspect or the business end of the product which is the loadbed. That balance, you see in this, which is ground up designed as a commercial partner.
TOS: As an automobile designer, how easy is it to shift gears and go from designing an SUV one moment to designing something such as a CV the next?
AS: I think if the team is good, it is easy to handle both. Of course, a bit of learning comes through a number of design cycles on projects such as these. Typically, what I have experienced and what the team experiences is that when you get off an SUV project or a high lifestyle product project, there is a bit of unlearning that you have to do in some areas because there are some expectations that are just totally not applicable here and there are many expectations that are not required there. On the XUV700, for example, you have air-conditioning, so the kinds of gaps that we have on the inside, we can keep them much tighter. All of those things keep getting descaled when you go for something like this. For the young guys, I’ve noticed, it takes a little bit of reigning in, but the team invariably delivers. It is a very different experience. Just in a way for example, as it would be for tractors – a very different approach but the basics such as proportions, stance, very high-quality detailing, being true to purpose, that is something we say… it has to be appropriate, it has to be contextual. You can’t have a XUV700 kind of fascia sitting on a product like this, it won’t cut it. So, as long as it is appropriate…
TOS: It is often assumed that keeping costs low is a way of making things affordable for the masses but why can’t they get something stylish as well?
AS: They can. It is a combination of many things; for example, if you look at these body panels, there is a certain section they have and if you’re careful in designing let’s say the sheet metal, then your manufacturing costs can come down. These products, tractors, three-wheelers, for example, those markets are very cost sensitive. We build the cost into the designs. We don’t take too many liberties. With the SUVs you can. Here, for example, it might well be [that] if there is a silver finish, it is actually a plastic part molded in silver, whereas on an SUV you may actually chrome plate it or paint it in silver which becomes much more expensive. So, all those costs are worked into the drawing but what is not lost is that the product still needs to be aspirational. Like you were saying, people deserve that style, but their sense of style is also a little bit different, so, that’s what we actually cater to, which goes back to my saying, it has to be contextual. If you overstyle it, then they get worried that it is looking fragile, there is a sort of psychological sort of disconnect… it might be difficult to repair or expensive to repair, all of that. So, through the design, we have to communicate that this won’t get damaged, [even] if it does, you will be able to fix it quickly, cheaply, and not be off the road for too long.
TOS: There are still some places on the pick-up where the finish seems a little unfinished...
AS: These are just pre-production models, they’ll all go away.